Tex Mex Chicken and Lentil Casserole with veggies, southwest spices, green lentils, and seasoned chicken. This cheesy baked dish is full of flavor and family approved.
Table of Contents
- Why You’ll Love This Recipe
- Ingredients for Tex Mex Chicken and Lentil Casserole
- How to Make Chicken and Lentil Casserole
- Tips for Best Results
- What Are the Best Lentils to Use?
- What Goes Well with Chicken and Lentils?
- Can I Make It Ahead?
- How to Store
- More Lentil Recipes to Try
- Tex Mex Chicken and Lentil Casserole Recipe
I have updated this reader favorite chicken lentil casserole recipe to make it better! The flavors are all the same but I have shortened the list of ingredients to make things easy for you. Also lentils come out more firm and casserole is less watery! Hooray!
Chicken and lentils is one of my favorite healthier comfort meals to make at the end of a busy week, it’s been in high rotation for years and makes delicious leftovers. Pair it with a creamy salad and it’s bound to find a spot on your winter rotation.
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
- Balanced meal: My rule of thumb for a healthy casserole is complex carbs in moderation, more lean protein and veggies, and keep cheese to reasonable amounts.
- Healthier casserole: Lentils are a great source of plant-based protein, fiber and complex carbs. Combined with chicken and vegetables, and you have one powerhouse meal.
- Simple ingredients: All ingredients fall into the kitchen staple category, and budget friendly.
- Cleans out pantry and fridge: Cooking casseroles at home is a fun and creative way to use up what you have on hand. Change up flavor, texture, and color by switching vegetables and spices.
- Versatile: This chicken and lentil recipe is the definition of versatility. It’s an easy oven to table recipe, make ahead for meal prep and enjoy throughout the week for lunch or dinner, it’s a crowd pleaser, and freezer friendly. You can even omit the chicken for a meatless dish.
Ingredients for Tex Mex Chicken and Lentil Casserole
The list of ingredients might seem long but really they are mostly spices that repeat themselves. I just broke down the chicken and lentils casserole recipe nicely for you.
- Green lentils: Uncooked lentils will need to be rinsed and drained. Brown lentils are the best substitute if you do not have green lentils.
- Chicken broth: I wanted to add lots of flavor, so I used low sodium chicken broth instead of water. Vegetable broth would work great too.
- Chicken: I like using boneless skinless chicken breasts, but chicken thighs work just as well. You’ll want to chop them into bite size pieces.
- Aromatics: Fresh garlic cloves and onion.
- Bell peppers: You’ll need 2 large peppers chopped. I had yellow pepper and red bell pepper on hand, use what you have.
- Diced tomatoes: Canned diced tomatoes helps create the sauce while adding acidity and texture. I always recommend low sodium to help control sodium levels.
- Corn: Frozen corn or corn drained from a can.
- Green chilies: A small 4 ounces can of diced green chilies for a touch of heat.
- Cheese: Shredded Tex Mex or Colby Jack cheese.
- Spices: A combination of cumin, taco seasoning, salt, and pepper gives this dish its Tex Mex flavor.
- Oil: You’ll need a bit of oil for sautéing the vegetables and chicken, olive oil or avocado oil are my go-to.
- Cilantro: Optional garnish, but fresh cilantro adds the perfect pop of color and flavor.
How to Make Chicken and Lentil Casserole
Here’s a quick overview how to make this chicken lentil casserole. Cook lentils, sauté chicken and veggies, combine and bake. It’s very simple!
There is a recipe card below with full instructions.
- Cook lentils: To a medium pot, add lentils, chicken broth and salt. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer covered for 20 minutes. Set aside.
- Cook chicken: While your lentils simmer, heat a large skillet on high heat and add oil to coat. Next, add cubed chicken, cumin, taco seasoning, salt, pepper, and cook for 6-7 minutes. Halfway through, drain liquid into a large bowl. Then transfer browned chicken into the same large bowl and set aside.
- Prep your oven: Preheat oven to 375 F.
- Sauté vegetables: Heat the same skillet on medium high heat and add oil. Sauté onion, garlic, and bell peppers with taco seasoning, cumin, and salt for 5-7 minutes or until golden brown. Stir occasionally to prevent burning.
- Combine: Transfer sautéed veggies to the bowl with chicken, then add cooked lentils, diced tomatoes, corn, 1/2 cup cheese, diced green chilies, taco seasoning and 1/2 cup cilantro. Mix gently with a spatula.
- Bake: Pour the mixture into a 9 x 13 baking dish and gently press until leveled. Place in the oven uncovered for 30 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle with cheese, and bake for another 10 minutes until cheese has melted.
- Rest and serve: Cover casserole with foil and let it stand for 30 minutes. Garnish with cilantro and serve.
Tips for Best Results
Here are some tips I’ve learned from my many, many times of making chicken and lentils.
- Pre-cooking lentils: Rinse them first and do not soak. We want to cook them but not completely, so they still soak up the liquid and flavors during baking as a casserole. After pre cooking, lentils should still be firm and if there is any liquid at the bottom of the pot, drain it.
- Save liquid from chicken: During sautéing most store-bought chicken releases water, some more and some less. Drain it into the bowl in which you will be mixing all casserole ingredients and keep cooking chicken until it is a little bit golden brown. Your chicken will be full of flavor!
- If using other lentils: The baking time and texture can vary, so keep an eye on the casserole.
- Bake uncovered: Leaving your casserole uncovered allows the steam to escape and therefore less liquid, you don’t want your casserole soupy. Baking uncovered also promotes browning and crisping.
- Let casserole stand before slicing: Really you could eat it right away but it’s not ideal. You want your casserole to sit, the ingredients to marry each other and soak up the juices. Then it’s the best!
What Are the Best Lentils to Use?
You can use green lentils or brown lentils, they are similar with a few differences. Green lentils have a slightly more peppery flavor and retain their shape when cooking, making them perfect for this recipe. However brown lentils work too, they contain slightly higher levels of fiber, have an earthy taste, and need less time to cook.
You can also use French lentils or Puy lentils. French lentils are a variety of green lentils that are smaller in size with a darker hue, and have a nutty and peppery, slightly earthy flavor. They hold their shape better than any other type of lentil and don’t turn to mush.
Then you have Puy lentils which are French lentils grown in the Puy region of central France. Because they are grown in a distinct place the taste is more peppery.
You can also use red lentils but casserole will come out more mushy as red lentils fall apart more. I also recommend to pre-cook red lentils only for 10 minutes.
Here are some creative ways to make this casserole your own.
- Other vegetables: Sauté mushrooms and zucchini with the bell peppers. You could also add right into the casserole as a mix-in up to 1 cup of chopped cauliflower, broccoli, eggplant, sweet potato, peas, green beans or celery.
- Add leafy greens: Spinach, kale, collard greens, or Swiss chard.
- Make vegetarian: Omit chicken and use vegetable broth for a deliciously filling vegetarian recipe.
- Use other spices: Instead of taco seasoning use chili powder to taste or cayenne pepper for more heat.
- Omit diced green chilies: Use chopped seeded jalapeno or poblano peppers instead, or omit and use more dried spices with heat.
- If not a fan of cilantro: I love cilantro but I know it’s not for everyone, you can omit or use fresh parsley instead.
- Lime: Squeeze lime juice on top of finished casserole for an extra burst of flavor.
What Goes Well with Chicken and Lentils?
Casseroles are thought to be an all-in-one-meal, but there are tons of perfect side dishes to serve alongside it.
- Some creamy salads like this cucumber salad or a simple avocado salad. Or other simple salads such as healthy coleslaw, and fresh avocado corn salad.
- Tortilla chips or tortillas. Even crusty bread, almond flour cornbread, or naan would be delicious.
- Serve next to or over a bed of Instant Pot long grain white rice or Instant Pot basmati rice.
- Potatoes, whether they be healthy mashed potatoes, Instant pot baked potato, or roasted potatoes.
- French fries or tater tots would make the kids extra happy.
Can I Make It Ahead?
Yes, you can make it ahead of time and store in the fridge or freezer.
1-2 days ahead: You can keep casserole mixture in a bowl or in a baking dish covered with plastic wrap in the fridge for up to 24 hours. Bring to room temperature for 30 minutes on a counter, then bake as per recipe.
As a freezer meal: Assemble, tightly wrap with plastic and then foil, and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw in the fridge overnight and bake as per instructions plus 5 minutes.
How to Store
Store: Transfer cooled leftovers to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Freeze: You can freeze leftovers in an airtight container for 3 months.
No, you don’t have to soak the lentils. In fact, you need to use unsoaked lentils for this recipe. If you soak the lentils, the liquid ratio and cooking time will be off.
Lentils should be a bit firm, they shouldn’t be fully cooked.
There shouldn’t be much liquid left after cooking the lentils but if any, drain it.
Yes, feel free to use store-bought cooked lentils or canned lentils (drained), or any leftovers work too. You will need about 3 – 3.5 cups cooked lentils.
More Lentil Recipes to Try
- Red lentil soup
- Lentil mushroom casserole
- Instant Pot lentil soup
- Slow cooker lentil soup
- Lentil spinach soup
- Instant Pot dal
Tex Mex Chicken and Lentil Casserole
- In a medium pot, combine lentils, chicken broth and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Set aside.
- Meanwhile, preheat large skillet on high heat and add oil. Add chicken, cumin, taco seasoning, salt, pepper and cook for 6-7 minutes, draining liquid into a large bowl halfway through and stirring occasionally. Transfer chicken to same large bowl and set aside.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Return skillet to medium-high heat and add oil. Add onion, garlic, bell peppers, taco seasoning, cumin, salt and cook for 5-7 minutes or until golden brown, stirring occasionally.
- Transfer to the bowl with chicken along with cooked lentils, diced tomatoes, corn, 1/2 cup cheese, diced green chilies, taco seasoning and 1/2 cup cilantro. Mix gently with spatula enough to combine.
- Transfer mixture to a 9 x 13 ovenproof baking dish and level/press gently with spatula. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and bake for another 10 minutes.
- Remove casserole from the oven, cover with foil and let stand for 30 minutes before serving.
- Garnish with remaining cilantro, cut into 8 slices and serve hot.
- Store: Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
- Freeze: In an airtight container up to 3 months.
- Meal prep: Assemble, tightly wrap with plastic and then foil, and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw in the fridge overnight and bake as per instructions plus 5 minutes.